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Has it turned to just mindless bashing of Countdown?

On the original allegations against , I’ve praised Shane Jones for the work he did in exposing their allegedly ugly tactics of asking for retrospective payments from suppliers. I don’t think such a practice (if it happens) should be condoned.

But yesterday, it turned into almost a smear campaign against Countdown. They were accused on TV3 of everything from threatening a select committee, to bullying competitors also, to bullying Councils to shock horror selling Lotto tickets.  I think a line has been crossed, and we are now just seeing a degree of mindless bashing.

Let’s look at the various stories, starting with the Mad Butcher stores:

Now, chief executive of the Mad Butcher Michael Morton told The Nation Countdown does not just bully its suppliers but also its competitors.

“I believe they have a cultural billing within the whole organisation,” he said.

“If you look to the information that came out and the allegations that were made about the supply and the tactics that were done there. The fact that when we do any comparative advertising to them, we get smashed with lawyers letters. They come down like a sledge hammer.”

There’s a key fact missing from that story. As much as I love the Mad Butcher, in this case his (former) stores are the bad guys. You see their advertisements were found to be false and misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority:

The Mad Butcher’s advertising that claimed to have cheaper meat than Countdown has been labelled “misleading” and “likely to deceive”.

Earlier this year, The Mad Butcher ran print, television and radio advertisements claiming “Jo from Onehunga”, a randomly selected shopper, paid 30 per cent more for lamb chops, schnitzel, mince, pork chops and eye fillet steak at Countdown than at The Mad Butcher.

But an Advertising Standards Authority decision released on Monday upheld the complaint of Progressive Enterprises Limited, which owns Countdown.

The decision said the ad was not comparing like for like as no basket shop was undertaken by Jo, four out of five products in the Countdown basket couldn’t be purchased at the time, and 1kg meat packs couldn’t usually be bought at Countdown.

The Countdown prices given were from Onehunga, and weren’t reflective of national pricing, it said.

“The advertisements made comparisons that were likely to mislead or deceive consumers,” it said.

“The advertisements falsely claimed a price advantage in this instance.”

I’m sorry, but no sympathy. You tried to deceive consumers about your prices, and your competitor complained your advertisements were false and misleading. That isn’t bullying. That’s just good sense.

Then the next bash was shock horror they sell Lotto tickets:

Labour MP Shane Jones has again taken aim at Countdown, raising concerns about lotto sales at the supermarket’s checkouts.

Lotto tickets are being sold despite new evidence that people spend less on food when there is a big jackpot.

You can now buy lotto at the checkouts in 100 Countdown supermarkets around the country. That makes buying a ticket more convenient, but Mr Jones says that is the problem.

“With Countdown putting a one-armed bandit at every Countdown checkout counter, you’re bringing gambling into the community,” says Mr Jones.

That’s just pathetic. I’ve been buying lotto tickets at New World for over a decade.  Why is it fine at one group of supermarkets, but not another? This is just smearing Countdown.

Mr Morton says the lotto jackpot should be capped, and Mr Jones agrees the jackpot can get too big. But he says the availability is the real problem.

“I really want to have an immediate review of the Gambling Act,” says Mr Jones. “Is it really in society’s interests to have lotto and gambling available at every checkout counter in the Aussie-owned supermarket?”

Now we’re getting effing ridiculous. Shane Jones wants to cap the size of the jackpot for Lotto? He should go join the Green Party.

And he think lotto tickets can be sold in supermarkets, so long as they are not owned by Australians? This is just xenophobic bashing.

And to answer his question, yes it is in society interests  that hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who enjoy Lotto can buy tickets conveniently for it. Apart from the enjoyment they get from it, money from Lotto funds Sport NZ, Creative NZ, the NZ Film Commissions and thousands of community groups. They get almost $200 million a year from people voluntarily playing Lotto.

Then we have Jones making things up about a threat:

Labour MP Shane Jones has accused Countdown of threatening a parliamentary committee with legal action, amid an investigation into extortion allegations.

Mr Jones made the allegations on The Nation this morning, claiming a letter threatening legal action against the commerce select committee is “around”.

But both Countdown and the committee deny the existence of a threatening letter, the latter labelling Mr Jones’ allegations “obviously” wrong.

“I am not sure how Shane knows about that… but he is obviously wrong,” commerce select committee chairman Jonathan Young told NZ Newswire.

The so called threatening letter merely asks for a transcript of the last hearing – which is a routine request.

And finally we had complaints that Countdown are appealing against decisions imposing hours on beer and wine sales that are more restrictive than the national default hours:

Well in many cases they fighting against what a lot of councillors do and that is to limit the sale of alcohol in supermarkets. The default position is from seven a.m to 11 p.m. Most councillors in New Zealand are adopting a nine a.m to nine p.m approach and in some cases Countdown in particularly and Progressive have appealed that on the basis that they want it to be open to 11 p.m.

I actually support Countdown on this issue. All you do by restricting beer and wine sales to 9 pm is annoy a lot of late night shoppers who can’t buy a bottle of wine with their groceries. Many Councils are falling into the trap of not distinguishing between specialist bottle stores and supermarkets. If you go to a bottle store at 10 pm, you are almost inevitably buying alcohol to drink immediately. But if you are buying alcohol from a supermarket at 10 am, then it is generally not for immediate consumption. The retail data shows very few people buy just alcohol from supermarkets after 9 pm. They are doing their regular shopping, and just happen to include some beer or wine with that.

So it is quite reasonable for a supermarket to question decisions made by local politicians, if they are not actually going to reduce alcohol harm – and instead just punish supermarket shoppers and supermarkets.

As I said at the beginning, Countdown’s alleged behaviour towards suppliers appears to have been bad, and that is now being investigated by the Commerce Commission. But all these other complaints are looking a a bit pathetic to be honest. Complaining that your misleading ads were complained about or that Countdown sells lotto tickets is just whining.

Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.

Comments and questions

Mr Farrar, New World don't sell Lotto at the check out. Might be just outside the store area, in fact most supermarkets have Lotto available within their sites, but that's not the same as selling it at the checkout. As for the argument about alcohol sales after 9pm, if you shut down bottle stores at this time do you not think then those people will then go to the supermarkets for it. I get sick and tired of the argument that things need to be convenient for people - There is so much in the world that is not convenient for people, sort that out. But oh no it's so hard to get off my ar-- and walk over to the Lotto counter or to get my sh-- together and plan to buy my alcohol during twelve hours of the day - oh the world's so hard.

Your argument is pointless on both counts.

Firstly if the lotto counter is separate it is far easier to enter the supermarket and buy a lotto ticket without even going through the checkout i.e. buying food at all. If positioned at the checkout, you can assume that one already has a basket of groceries. Where the supermarket chooses to position their lotto counter is their business.

Secondly, shift workers or those who work extended hours to make ends meet, the self employed taxpayers or those with businesses who do not have the luxury of finishing at 5, 6, 7, 8 or even 9pm, or who choose to shop after the madness of peak hour traffic, peak hour supermarket madness, and/or after evening meal when the supermarket is less hectic, should be deprived of being able to purchase a bottle of wine with their groceries? Not everyone lives in a nice neat and tidy 9-5 world, which is why supermarkets are open long hours and in many cases 24 hours. Supermarkets are simply catering for that demand.

Jones is just trying to raise his profile, presumably so he's better placed to challenge Cunliffe for Labour's leadership soon. If so, he's doing God's work - so go easy on the poor chap.

Highly, highly agree

David, in your role as unofficial National Party re-election campaign promoter, discrediting anything anyone is doing that could resonate with the electorate against National and its' all to cozy relationship with big corporations has to be priority number one.

There is a deep and abiding anger in middle New Zealand against the decline in real earning power versus the cost of living. Hence the interest in stories about the Duopoly in food, and in the constant power price rises enhanced by English's bribe to the owners of Tiwai Point. If Labour or any of the other opposition parties work out how to tap this anger National will be gone. Hence Farrar's timely epistle.

I think the article shows Countdown is aggressive when it comes to defending it's business model. No business likes having it's supplier terms exposed or being labelled oppressive. We Kiwis should support NZ business before an overseas provider, that is for sure, problem is how does one determine who owns what.

A large portion of our day to day purchasing is via an overseas owned company either directly or indirectly. Vehicles -new and used (many car yards new and used are foreign owned) fuel, food, building products, Hardware, clothing, telephones, insurance to name a few.

Any large company with a good market share in their field will set supplier terms and prices that are tough. Suppliers, do not have to agree.

Remember one thing, market share is given by consumers. We seek out the lowest price and best deal, we are no different in our behaviour to the likes of the Countdown Bunnings group, the insurance companies and others

Direct marketing via internet increasingly available, alternatives are possible.

I have heard enough from people in the industry to know that Progs is more guilty of exploitation of suppliers and consumers than Foodstuffs, though they're no saints.

But in a duopoly like these players have arranged, it's hard for the consumer to use the normal market mechanism of buying elsewhere.

The problem is compounded by competitor incompetence. Foodstuffs could easily capitalise on the kerfuffle by having a decent online offering. It's a disgrace in business strategy terms that they are completely ceding this marketspace to Progs - and is probably all the proof you need that they are making super-profits so they don't need to go online.

There is an alternative in Auckland at least called supermarketonline. It is too small to have a crack at Countdown in the PR stakes, but this is just the sort of stumble by Goliaths that give Davids the opportunity they need. It looked a bit basic, but it's worth a go just to give the competitive market some juice.

I believe customers choosing not to go to Countdown is not only because of Jones actions. It is also a reaction to the news that Countdown's Aussie owner has an active campaign to get customers over the ditch to buy Aussie products and this has hit New Zealand exporters. I think shoppers are reciprocating by shunning Countdown in NZ.

I will be voting National this time around but take my hat off to Shane Jones and anyone else standing up to the Countdown guys. I have seen first hand what they get up to and it ain't pretty or ethical.

If you go to the sunday markets they are awash with half rotted fruit and distressed stock. Go to Countdown and the stuff is in good condition but costs maybe 50% more. If the pressure on suppliers is to maintain standards then the consumer should be grateful to Countdown- their fight serves the interests of the end consumer. Shane Jones comes across as indolent even though it is not his true character- his time in bed with government funded pornography when a kiwi Obama would have been plotting a course for the nation, a half cocked attempt to hit the Aussies and support the local potato farmer and softdrink merchant when he should have been tackling the more difficult issue of excessive retail prices that affects society as a whole.

Just go to a Farmers Market and speak to the growers and you'll hear first hand how Countdown treat the suppliers . I minimise my shopping there.

How can bashing of Countdown ever be mindless?

I don't always see eye to eye with you Mr Farrar. But this time can't fault a word.

Still think Countdown are prats. Not newsworthy.

It s astonishing that folk who read NBR descend to supermarket gossip
The fact is that the supermarkets form a fantastic distribution chain for our food which is fresh and at the lowest prices generally available.
Surely consumers should be delighted about that as should Shane Jones
Their profit margins are so slim that they have to drive a hard bargain so the suppliers who cannot stand the heat should find other outlets for their product
It is such an oxymoron to slam an outfit keeping prives down